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Camping Out at Outdoor Music Festivals
by Alex Cosper (8/05/14)

See also A List of Campfire Songs

Singing songs around the campfire isn't just something that happens in old cowboy movies. It still goes on in the adventurous world of camping in the summertime. Campfire songs are a reminder that music doesn't have to be listening to recordings that were made in an expensive studio. The test of whether or not a popular song qualifies as a campfire song is if it can be sung a capella in a group setting with or without an acoustic guitar. If the lyrics and melody can stand up and be recognized and enjoyed by happy campers, then it passes the test as a genuine campfire song. Almost any traditional folk song automatically qualifies due to its storyteller nature.

The combination of camping and homegrown music may not comprise the biggest summer concerts, but they do mark memorable outdoor adventures who are passionate about local music and nature. Summer is the best time of the year to showcase music for any up and coming act because that's when music fans have the most leisure time and when it makes the most sense to plan outdoor events with the least chance of cancellation due to rain. Indie music acts can gain an edge planning several months ahead by approaching campground festival music promoters. Some of the hotspots where these artists can tap into crowds that care about music beyond mainstream radio acts include the Pacific Northwest, Colorado and Northern California.

Since there are so many festivals for music fans to choose from any given summer, indie musicians with small followings should use their imaginations to fit festivals that connect with their niche or community. Folk acts, for example, should pursue folk festivals while jazz acts should pursue jazz festivals. But what if the artist doesn't have a niche? In a world in which there have been more bands than fans since the 1990s, not having a niche often means getting lost in the shuffle. That's why it's helpful to plant seeds in your own backyard. The following are a few homegrown campground festivals in 2014.

Seattle Fusion Festival Offers Lean Presentation

The Seattle Fusion Festival ( is the opposite of a huge rock concert that tries to be patterned after Woodstock. The event deliberately avoids a barrage of food vendors and doesn't try to be decorated with grandiose imagery. Planners rely on music, space and people for the celebration, which helps keep ticket prices low. The 2014 event will include a little more variety than in the past by featuring theater and music workshops, camping, along with dancers and DJs. The Fusion Festival will be held October 3 through 5 in Seattle. While most of the event is a showcase of DJs, live acts include Lynx, Chance's End and David Keogh featuring Mr. Moo.

Folk Music in the Rockies

The Rocky Mountains in Colorado are world famous for skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer, along with summer festivals. John Denver's classic "Rocky Mountain High" instantly comes to mind, but Colorado is also home to its own brand of bluegrass music. The 24th annual Rocky Mountain Folks Festival takes place August 15 thorugh 17 at Planet Bluegrass Ranch in Lyons, where it has been held since 1994. The festival mixes storytelling and songs in a beautiful Rocky Mountain setting. Attendees have the option of camping onsite or nearby at Meadow Park. Other activities include hiking, biking and water sports.

The festival opens with the Folks Songwriter Showcase where songwriters compete and are judged by a jury. It's an ideal festival for learning more about the craft of music as it features songwriting workshops at Wildflower Pavilion. This festival has been praised by recording artist Jackson Browne. Main stage acts performances in 2014 include:

Randy Newman
Ani DiFranco
Greg Brown
Sarah Jarosz
Steve Poltz
Brandi Carlile
Josh Ritter
Lake Street Dive
Ron Pope
Peter Himmelman
Elephant Revival
Imelda May
John Fullbright

Northern California Camping Music Festivals

Smaller markets outside big cities, such as Nevada City outside of Sacramento, California, is a great place to showcase up and coming talent. Community radio station KVMR ( in 2014 is promoting the 17th annual KVMR Celtic Festival & Marketplace September 26-28 featuring these acts:

Mary Jane Lamond & Wendy MacIsaac
Screaming Orphans
Nuala Kennedy
Hanz Araki Band
1000 Years At Sea
Mclean Avenue Band

This festival is much more than Celtic music, as it includes magicians, jugglers, dancers, parades and many other types of entertainment. It's also a venue for weddings during the festival. This three day event brings together several local small business sponsors including natural foods market BriarPatch Co-op, eco-retreat center Peaceful Pines, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and Nevady City Winery. It's an effective way for local businesses to showcase their banners and booths for the community.

Another festival promoted by KVMR is the 8th Annual American Music Festival, held in the Coloma area from September 12 through 14. The ticket includes camping and music, providing access to three riverfront campgrounds: American River Resort, Camp Lotus and Earthtek. Free shuttle buses help attendees move from venue to venue, although each one is within walking distance of the others. The festival features the following main stage acts:

Rebecca Loebe Trio
The Parson Red Heads
Laura Love and Big Bad Gina
Tommy Malone of the Subdudes
Whitewater Ramble
Terri Hendrix and Lloyd Maines
Greg Brown
The Bills
Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash

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